Clinton’s campaign app – play for presidency

On: September 19, 2016
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Traditional campaigning is not enough anymore – politicians need to follow technological trends. Fittingly, the Hillary Clinton campaign developed its own app for the upcoming US presidential elections. Launched this July, “Hillary 2016” lets users compete challenges in their personalized virtual headquarters (Gilmer).

Even though Barack Obama and Mitt Romney already offered apps in the last elections (Yamamoto, Kushin, and Dalisay 884), Bhattacharya calls Clinton’s app a “game changer” (Bhattacharya). And it is in the most literal sense. Previous apps just facilitated canvassing and donating (Yamamoto, Kushin, and Dalisay 884), for instance, but “Hillary 2016” wraps this up in a game. The campaigning team is at the right place to the right time: The current race is described as “the mobile election” (Byers) and the US rank among the countries with most adults owning smartphones (Poushter).

Smartphone ownership worldwide

Developed by Dreamworks veterans, among others, this app seems to be inspired by Farmville (Fried). Users start with an empty campaign office. To furnish and decorate it, they need stars, which are rewards for completing daily challenges – quizzes, for example. In other tasks such as watching videos, points are earned. These will lift users up in state and national ranking lists.

Here is an overview how the app works:

From playing to campaigning

A closer look at the various challenges and tasks reveals: What is presented as a game, is supposed to create real benefits for Clinton’s campaign. Some journalists praise this move, stating that the app “is geared toward keeping you focused on the Clinton campaign” (Whitney) and “a clever way to keep inactive voters involved” (Brownlee). But how can an app make people actually vote for a candidate?

Scholars list several ways through which new media in all its forms can transform virtual activity into real-life actions:

  • Targeting and personalization. Smartphones make traditional ground war – sending out personalized and targeted messages – easier again (McNeal and Bryan 992). In contrast to TV commercials, recipients feel closer to the candidate and identify more with him or her. Moreover, apps remind users of the candidate every time they look at their screens (Cogburn and Espinoza-Vasquez 201-109). With its daily challenges, “Hillary 2016” even commands you to pay attention to it and to subscribe for text messages. It also rewards user with “special campaign updates” and items signed by Clinton. Additionally, the personal headquarter makes users feel like members of the campaigning team (Fried).


  • Connecting & mobilizing strangers. Social media connects strangers and forms movements (Wicks et al. 628). Although the ranking list shows users probably like-minded people all over the country, the app does not offer an internal forum for them to connect. Instead, it only has links to social media as it sometimes requests users to share news on Facebook, for example (Bhattacharya). Because of the competitive games, supporters have an incentive to work harder for the campaign.


  • Information dissemination and deliberation. Like on traditional media, campaigns spread out information on new media to educate people (Cogburn and Espinoza-Vasquez 200-203). In Clinton’s app, this happens in videos and quizzes, which are often directed against Trump (Bhattacharya). Unlike traditional media, social media offers an instant forum (Yamamoto, Kushin, and Dalisay 893). According to deliberative theory, people are more likely to participate in politics if they engage more in conversations (McNeal and Bryan 993). Connected to social media, “Hillary 2016” profits from this process, too.


  • Peer-to-peer campaigns & promotion of civic engagement. A candidate’s supporters can use social media to promote him or her to friends (Cogburn and Espinoza-Vasquez 203). “Hillary 2016” does not hide this goal and wants its users to invite friends via the “recruit friends tool”. However, it de-politicizes this step: People who hesitate committing themselves might find it easier to join what seems to be just a game.


  • Organizing activities. Last but not least, Clinton’s app takes advantage of typical smartphone qualities. It schedules campaign events in the user’s Google calendar (Bhattacharya), locates nearby canvassing activities (Brownlee), and consequently facilitates participation in both (Cogburn and Espinoza-Vasquez 203).


All these mechanisms work in two ways: Firstly, users become more active and are bound stronger to the campaign. Secondly, through their campaigning activities such as sharing information, users act as opinion relays (Maarek 43) and may influence non-users. “Hillary 2016” benefits from most of the mechanisms.


Which people (are supposed to) use it?

Nevertheless, the app’s effectiveness highly depends on the number and type of people who download it. Her supporters are most likely to get it, but they will vote for her anyway. In contrast, an app will not be enough to persuade opponents. Crucial are the undecided voters.

According to a political theory, people weigh costs and benefits to decide whether to vote (McNeal and Bryan 992). Clinton’s app increases the benefits through rewards and fun, while decreasing the costs as both access to information and doing campaign work gets much simpler. At the same time, it creates threats of costs and barriers: Stars are lost and functions limited if the user does not complete the daily challenges. And no one wants that.

Especially for young first-time voters, costs are higher because they need to get registered and informed from scratch (McNeal and Bryan 992). With its playful approach, “Hillary 2016” aims at this important group (Frizell; Bhattacharya) and could actually prompt its members to vote. If it really works, will be revealed on November 8.


Reference list

Bhattacharya, Ananya. “Hillary Clinton Is Taking a Page from Kim Kardashian’s Mobile App Playbook.” Quartz, July 26, 2016.

Brownlee, John. “Hillary Clinton’s New App Gamifies the Fight against Donald Trump.” Fastcodesign, July 24, 2016.

Byers, Dylan. “The Mobile Election: How Smartphones Will Change the 2016 Presidential Race.” POLITICO, April 1, 2015.

Cogburn, Derrick L., and Fatima K. Espinoza-Vasquez. “From Networked Nominee to Networked Nation: Examining the Impact of Web 2.0 and Social Media on Political Participation and Civic Engagement in the 2008 Obama Campaign.” Journal of Political Marketing 10, no. 1–2 (February 16, 2011): 189–213.

Fried, Ina. “Hillary Clinton Is Launching a Game-Style Mobile App for Campaign Volunteers.” Recode, July 24, 2016.

Frizell, Sam. “Hillary Clinton Launches Mobile Volunteering App.” Time, July 24, 2016.

Gilmer, Marcus. “Hillary Clinton Launches Game-Style App for Election.” Mashable, July 25, 2016.

Maarek, Philippe J. Campaign Communication and Political Marketing. New. Chichester ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

McNeal, Ramona, and Lisa Bryan. “The Mobile Presidential Election.” In Encyclopedia of Mobile Phone Behavior, edited by Zheng Yan, 992–1002. IGI Global, 2015.

Poushter, Jacob. “Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies.” Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, February 22, 2016.

Whitney, Lance. “Hillary Clinton iPhone App Aims to Drum up and Reward Supporters.” CNET, July 25, 2016.

Wicks, Robert H., Jan LeBlanc Wicks, Shauna A. Morimoto, Angie Maxwell, and Stephanie Ricker Schulte. “Correlates of Political and Civic Engagement Among Youth During the 2012 Presidential Campaign.” American Behavioral Scientist 58, no. 5 (May 1, 2014): 622–44.

Yamamoto, Masahiro, Matthew J. Kushin, and Francis Dalisay. “Social Media and Mobiles as Political Mobilization Forces for Young Adults: Examining the Moderating Role of Online Political Expression in Political Participation.” New Media & Society 17, no. 6 (June 1, 2015): 880–98.

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